Small Gardens

The Management Of Room Plants

Best kinds for "roughing" it--Importance of cleanliness--The proper way of watering them. The majority of English women like to see their rooms, and specially their drawing-rooms, adorned with =growing plants=. Nevertheless, a great many do not cultivate them successfully,

so a few hints will not be amiss. =Constant attention= is needed to keep plants in perfect health, and this is exactly what is so often denied them. A lady buys two or three ferns that take her fancy, and feels for a while quite interested in their welfare; but, after a week or so, she leaves them to take care of themselves, which means to dwindle, and ultimately die. Many shillings, therefore, are constantly being spent in renewing plants which, with proper care, should last for years. All room plants =must be looked after daily=, a few minutes every morning being far better than an hour once a week, which is all they receive in some homes. I will treat first of =palms=, which, though such slow-growing subjects, seem the favourite of all for home decoration, owing to their grace of form and good lasting properties. If you observe the roots of most palms, you will see that, attached in an odd way to the rising stem is =a sort of bulb=, not unlike a pigmy potato. This excrescence, which should only be covered by a thin layer of soil, stores up nutriment for the plant's use, in much the same way as a hyacinth or daffodil does. This accounts in a great measure for its power in enduring dryness of the soil without flagging, which property, however, should not be abused. Palms should be watered as regularly, though not so often, as more sappy plants. =THE CORRECT WAY TO WATER.= Numbers of people do not know how to give water in the correct way, whereby the florist prospers! =The golden rule= is never to water a plant until it requires it, and then to do it thoroughly. It is fatal merely to moisten the top of the soil, and to leave the deeper roots dry. First give =a sharp tap to the pot=; if it rings, water is required; if, on the contrary, a dull sound is given out, the soil is wet enough. Lifting a pot is a sure test too, as one's hand soon becomes accustomed to the difference in weight of a moist and dry pot; the former, of course, being so much heavier. Always see that the water runs through the hole at the bottom of the pot, then you may be sure that each particle of soil is wet, and not till then. If you possibly can, it is best to =use water of a corresponding temperature to that of the room they are in=; this is most important with delicate plants. Large, shiny, horizontal-leaved plants require a weekly sponging to remove the inevitable dust which settles on them. =Gloves should be worn= while this is being done, as contact with the skin turns the edges of the leaves yellow; also gloves, of course, help to keep the hands soft and white. Plants with large leaves should never be watered overhead, unless immediately wiped dry, as each drop allowed to stand on the leaf turns yellow, rots, and finally quite spoils the leaf, so that it has to be removed. Palms will stand gas fairly well, but not so well as aspidistras. =THE BEST PLANTS FOR DARK CORNERS.= An aspidistra (please note spelling) is =the best plant there is for roughing it=. The long, thick, dark leaves seem to stand draughts, gas, dark corners, poor soil, and general neglect almost with impunity. But here again watering overhead is fatal, as regards the appearance of these plants. The =leaves should be washed once a week=, but I will just say here that where one is in a hurry, and cannot wait to get a sponge and water, a good polish with a duster is not at all a bad substitute. There are disputes occasionally as to whether aspidistras ever flower. Of course, it is an undoubted fact that they do, and I can give a decided affirmative to any who may question it. My plants flower regularly every spring, but, as these blooms are a dull, greenish-purple in colour, and only sit, as it were, on the top of the soil, they are naturally overlooked. The modesty of the violet is nowhere when compared with the aspidistra! =Aralias are good room plants=, for they have a bold and handsome form, and glossy, bright green foliage, very like that of a fig. They do not stand gas well, however, but, as so many houses are lighted by electricity, this is less of a drawback than was formerly the case. If not regularly watered, too, they have a habit of dropping their leaves; otherwise they are of easy culture. As they grow taller, the lower leaves, even on a healthy plant, generally drop off. =LEGGY PLANTS.= It is a good way, when these and kindred plants become "leggy," to improve their appearance by cutting off the old root, and making them root higher up the stem. Where the plant is valuable, it is best to be sure of new roots before throwing away the old, but, as a rule, aralias have so many joints that they may easily be induced to strike by just pressing the stem firmly into the soil, then putting the pot in some dark place, and keeping the soil rather dry, though the foliage must be kept moist. =To be quite sure of success=, however, it is best to treat them in the following manner:--Choose a handful of soil with a little loam in it, and, wetting the stem slightly, press the soil round two or three of the joints, and bind closely with some raffia or bass, being very careful to keep the soil always moist, or the plant will fail to make roots. Some people enclose this part of the stem in two halves of a small flower-pot, which is a good plan, if the stem will bear the weight, as it preserves a more even temperature. =The hare's-foot fern=--Davallia canariensis--with its beautiful blue-green fronds, much divided and elegantly arched, makes the loveliest room plant imaginable, and, though fairly common, is =not often seen in a good state of health=. I have found that, on first buying a pot of this fern, the leaves almost invariably turn rusty and drop off, so that, as the new fronds sometimes do not appear for some while, an amateur might really be pardoned for imagining the plant dead. This is not so; the hare's-foot merely resents the change of atmosphere (it has probably been in a moist green-house), and, like most of us, takes time to settle down. Once it has acclimatised itself, there is no better plant to be had for the purpose. It is so essentially decorative that no one can fail to admire it. Firm potting is important in growing the =davallia=, and it does not seem so partial to water as most of the fern tribe. It will also stand gas pretty well, if not shut up for the night in an atmosphere charged with it, and this is the case with many room plants; they =strongly object to being left to spend the night in the impure air=, though a few hours each evening will not do them much harm. The plan of taking them out at bed-time also prevents so much dust accumulating on their leaves, an inevitable drawback where a room is thoroughly swept and dusted. =Always endeavour to keep your plants well balanced.= In a room, it is impossible to do this, without constantly turning the pots round, so that all parts may get the light. In summer, this has to be attended to nearly every day, but in winter less often, as the sun is, of course, much less powerful. As regards =re-potting=, great care must be exercised, or more harm than good will result. Palms will grow for years in quite small pots, and do not thrive if over-potted. On the other hand, some plants require it annually, but, seldom or often, unless for some special reason, =re-potting should always be done in the spring=. From the beginning of February until the end of May, a plant may safely be shifted on, as it is called, because all these months comprise the growing season, when fresh roots are emitted and new leaves being produced almost daily. See that the pot is perfectly clean and dry, and the soil in a friable condition; it should be composed of peat, loam and sand in equal parts; a little leaf mould, where it is for a fern proper, will be beneficial. A =potting soil= ready prepared may be had for about a shilling a peck from any seedsman, which saves time and trouble in mixing. Be sure to put clean crocks in at the bottom, or the soil will become sour. Shake the pot every now and again as you fill it up, to ensure no crevices being left; =loose potting= has caused the death of many a fine plant. When the pot is full, press the mould down, leaving from half an inch to an inch (according to the size) bare of soil to the rim of the pot, to allow of watering. It is well to put a layer, about half an inch thick, of cocoa-nut fibre on the top of the soil, as this looks neat, and serves to show off the foliage to the best advantage. Enough of the fibre to cover several dozen pots may be had for threepence. Guano is good, if supplied to the plants during the warmer months of the year. The proportions of guano to water can always be seen on the label pasted on the outside of the tin. It is well to remember that =guano should never be given to a plant when the soil is dry=, but always just after it has been watered. =Saucers or jardinieres should be emptied= as a rule an hour after the plants have been watered, though where ferns seem to flourish most when allowed to stand in water, it is well to continue the practice. In very hot weather, this is undoubtedly of benefit to many plants, but in the winter the soil of all pot plants should err on the dry side, cold and damp together often proving fatal. =GOOD FOR TWO-THIRDS OF THE YEAR.= There are some first-rate plants which refuse to look well for the coldest part of the year (unless one is possessed of an hot-house), but which are really =capital for brightening our rooms= for at least eight months in the twelve. Of these, the asparagus "fern" is perhaps the most useful. It is a lovely and graceful plant, which bears cutting, and it lasts so long, both in and out of water. Being, however, in reality a stove plant, amateurs who have no warmed green-house must not expect to keep it in thoroughly good health during the winter, but so soon as the spring appears, new green stems will shoot up in all directions, and the old fronds will soon be replaced by bright green feathery plumes of infinite grace. =Pteris wimsetti= is a charming room plant. =Young eucalyptus plants= are also very pretty for decorating a room, and are supposed to be good as a disinfectant. Their habit of growth is uncommon, and very charming to watch, as they quickly reach to an effective size, and make large handsome plants to set in the corners of reception rooms. It is best to bring them up by seed, which should be sown in February or March. =Spring is the best time to buy room-plants.=

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